Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Sign as Art


We are just finishing up two fine weeks in La Paz, and the city is celebrating Carnival, with music, parades, carnival rides, and general chaos along the waterfront. If I was more of a crowd enthusiast, I would post photos of the bright costumes and gaudy carnival vendors. Instead, I am indulging in my latest passion: the hand lettered signs that adorn the buildings in La Paz. It is a great tradition, a successful marriage of building and signage, and, I am afraid, a dying art.

Virtually every building here is constructed of concrete, which is then covered with plaster and painted. The surface becomes a blank canvas, until the sign painter arrives and begins adding the information that identifies the business - it's name, what it offers for sale, the hours of operation. The sign above apprears on one of La Paz's busiest tortilla factories.

At their best, the signs accentuate the architecture of the building, like this one on the butcher shop we have adopted as our own. Sadly, most new businesses around here sport computer generated signs, printed on plastic with muddy colors and cluttered with graphics and words in a jumble. Once hung, they block out any architectural detail, are difficult to read, and tend to make one business look like any other.

So the occasional encounter with well done traditional lettering is especially impressive. It is a reminder that letter forms and the careful use of other ornaments of calligraphy can have a graphic impact far beyond the message they deliver - a strong argument for simplicity in design. How could you possibly say "eats and sweets" with greater elegance?

Still, the Mexicans excel in color extravaganzas, and I admire places where they have gone overboard with color in the letteringand still managed to get their message across. I'm hoping this great tradition won't disappear altogether.

5 Comments:

Blogger RH said...

I like this post. Simple things can make such a difference.

February 24, 2009 6:48 PM  
Anonymous Barbara Sher said...

Beautiful, and your words help me see the photos. If you take enough of these, you can create an eBook and get the local newspapers (and Chambers of Commerce?) to talk about it -- and maybe you can help the tradition continue.

Do they Twitter and Facebook in Spanish? We could start a movement!

Really good. I'd love to see more.

February 24, 2009 9:19 PM  
Anonymous Barbara Sher said...

Beautiful, and your words help me see the photos. If you take enough of these, you can create an eBook and get the local newspapers (and Chambers of Commerce?) to talk about it -- and maybe you can help the tradition continue.

Do they Twitter and Facebook in Spanish? We could start a movement!

Really good. I'd love to see more.

February 24, 2009 9:19 PM  
Blogger MPearl said...

Great post. When I travel it's always the details that stay with me. You have a wonderful eye for them. I'm planning to do a travel blog like yours one day on my bike, posting from the road.

Can't wait for your next "chapter"!

February 24, 2009 9:31 PM  
Blogger Lisa Purdy said...

I have the same fascination with signs in Mexico. So colorful and individual!
Lisa

February 25, 2009 6:56 PM  

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